The past couple years have shown that learning in a fully remote environment leaves a lot to be desired compared with in-person learning. Among school-age students, for instance, remote learning has been associated with lower test scores and has had negative effects on social, emotional, physical and mental health.
It’s reasonable to wonder if those negative effects are the result of the general disruption and confusion from the pandemic. Unfortunately, well before the pandemic many fully online learning offerings saw shockingly low completion rates.
Does this mean that all workforce learning should be 100 percent in person? No. But there are a few best practices for training in a remote or hybrid environment that will make a significant difference.
• Make it mandatory. For starters, companies should position educational offerings as mandatory rather than optional. It’s not advisable to tell employees that there’s a menu of educational offerings and to please feel free to sample whatever and whenever they want. When classes are self-paced and optional, employees have a tendency to try out a class for a bit, and then quickly get sidetracked by their day-to-day responsibilities before disengaging entirely.
• Align learning with skillsets you need. Make sure employees know they are expected to take classes that enhance specific skills, and this critical learning should take the form of an actual class—one where there’s an instructor, where attendance and engagement matters, and where there’s an assessment at the end to ensure that the learner has gained mastery of the set of skills the employer has defined as important. People can attend this class in person or remotely, but keep in mind that synchronous works better than asynchronous in this situation. People who are dialing into a class via Zoom should participate simultaneously with in-person attendees, and be highly encouraged to keep their cameras on.
Also, when people aren’t physically in class together, there should be a mechanism that allows them to connect outside of the classroom, whether it’s some form of online chat forum or informal meetups. This connection creates an additional layer of engagement with the course material, accountability between participants to show up, as well as provides fantastic networking opportunities.
• Start small and work your way up. Rather than having learners jump straight into a 10-week certificate program on marketing, finance or some other in-depth topic, give learners a two or three-day workshop to “prime the pump,” peak their interest and get them engaged. If learners engage on the front end and see the value, they’re more likely to consume the meatier, lengthier courses on the back end, which will result in higher completion rates.
• Monitor progress. At the same time, the company’s training partner should be frequently evaluating a learner’s engagement. If a learner is keeping on task, then leadership should receive a positive report. However, when a learner appears to be slipping into the “disengagement ” zone, an initial conversation should occur directly with the learner to better understand any causes and how to get them re-engaged.
More importantly, leadership should be made aware if no course correction is made on the part of the learner. Are they participating in conversations, asking questions and answering questions? Is their camera on or off? Are they putting in the time and effort required for each lesson? After all, the goal for most companies is to advance their workforce, and both company and employee should be approaching training with high regard.
• Tone at the top. Support from the CEO matters, especially when it comes to ensuring the success of workforce learning in the remote and hybrid era. The more that senior leadership can show that their dedication to learning initiatives are a true priority for the company, the better. Employees are quick to pick up on these queues. If a C-Suiter or EVP is sitting in Class X with everyone else one week, it’s safe to assume that others within the company will take note and follow suit.
Hopefully C-Suiters and leadership across the company understand that the need for lifelong learning isn’t going away, which means that remote and hybrid workforce education will have to continue to evolve. Fortunately, by embracing a few simple best practices around training and education, companies can succeed on this front and ably plan for the future.